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Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Musketeers: The Return

Ah, it's this episode. You know the one. It turns up in every single adventure series ever, especially those with a fantasy bent. It happened on Merlin. It happened on The Legend of the Seeker. Also Firefly. And Robin of Sherwood. And Xena Warrior Princess. And probably Hercules: The Legendary Journey as well.
It's the one where a small village is under threat, and the desperate residents seek outside help in attempting to protect themselves and their land. It'll inevitably involve stirring speeches, makeshift barricades, outnumbered good guys and a montage involving Training the Peaceful Villagers. A pretty girl will be menaced, there'll be a few sad deaths of minor characters, and eventually the villains will skulk away with their tails between their legs.
It was inevitable that The Musketeers would eventually tackle this plot, for they have a ready-made candidate for the role of reluctant hero who must embrace his responsibilities and save his tenants.
And he couldn't be more thrilled about it!

Athos has long since deserved an episode to himself, especially as feels like he's been out of commission for a while. And so the show wastes no time in throwing him in the deep end – they even skip the kidnapping and open with Athos tied to a chair in the middle of his own estate, sopping wet and surrounded by irate villagers.
Ah, here come the requisite innkeeper and feisty daughter, right on cue. They want their liege lord to step up and protect them from Baron Renard, a neighbouring aristocrat with designs on the land, but Athos ain't interested. He hates this place, everyone in it, and never wants to return for as long as he lives. You really have to admire his commitment to not giving a shit, as he held out a lot longer than I thought he would.
The other Musketeers track him down, Jeanne the innkeeper's daughter gets kidnapped, Athos is finally inspired to help out, and the team draws a line in the sand that none of the villagers are prepared to cross until the just the right dramatic moment.
Yeah, you can predict nearly every step of this episode – what's more, the entire situation could have been easily avoided had Athos simply settled his affairs the first time he abandoned these people. Since it all comes down to appointing the innkeeper as mayor, one can't help but wish Athos had been a little more responsible in the immediate aftermath of his brother's death/Milady's execution.
(Besides, isn't he still accumulating money from the estate? Where's all the tax money going? This is still a feudal system, right?)
Since we're caught up in a completely predictable plot, it's to the characters we have to turn to find any nuance – and in this respect the show delivers. Athos is arguably the most interesting Musketeer, or at least the one with the most sordid backstory, and this episode sheds further light on what happened (or didn't happen) back when he was married to Milady (or Anne as he calls her).


Waaaah, look at how HAPPY they were!
Up until this point, all we knew of Anne's crime and subsequent sentencing was that she killed Athos's brother Thomas, and claimed he tried to force himself on her. There was certainly a Rashomon element to the scenario, and every chance that Anne was lying to save herself. My theory was that Thomas had discovered who she really was and that she murdered him to hide the truth (only to be found out later, of course). Perhaps there was some blackmail thrown in, with Thomas demanding sexual favours in exchange for his silence, leading to Anne's not-entirely untrue claim that he tried to rape her.
But what we see here in these brief flashbacks makes me inclined to believe Anne's side of the story. If nothing else, Anne is smarter than to be caught standing over a dead body with a bloody knife in her hand – that alone suggests Thomas's death happened on the spur of the moment. But was she reacting to Thomas attacking her or Thomas confronting her with evidence of her past as a thief?
So even though we get a little more context to what happened, there are still plenty of gaps left. Athos isn't painted in a particularly good light what with his immediate rejection of Anne's pleas for help, and you can't help but feel it was the sense of betrayal (that Anne had hidden her past from him) as much as his brother's death that made him condemn her to death.

Catherine put her finger on it when she said: "How it must have hurt to learn that your precious wife was nothing more than a common thief and fraud. What was her real crime, in your eyes, I wonder? Murdering your brother, or beguiling you?"
But one thing I do believe is that Anne was telling the truth when she said she loved Athos. I mean, of course she did. She would not feel such seething resentment if she cared nothing for the man who betrayed her.
So the tragic thing about the two of them is that they betrayed each other. Regardless of the exact circumstances of Thomas's death, Athos feels that his wife lied to him, and Anne is faced with the reality of knowing that her husband was prepared to go through with her execution. Their lingering bitterness lies in the fact that Anne survived knowing she only did so through her own cunning and powers of seduction (if memory served, she bribed the hangman).
Athos can't even fall back on the "I would have let you go" excuse, as technically Anne should be dead. He passed the sentence and was there at the hanging tree as it was carried out. There was no last minute reprieve from his quarter.
And if Anne truly had turned over a new leaf and left her old life behind; if she had every intention of being a devoted country wife – well then, having all her past sins flung back in her face from someone she truly loved and trusted would absolutely drive her back to criminality.
Gah, it hurts so much! Because it's difficult to imagine these characters reacting in any other way to what happened with Thomas. Of course Athos would pass judgment on Anne, and of course Anne would grow vengeful over it. And now neither one of them can fully trust or understand the other, and no matter how much I might want reconciliation between them, you know they're never going to get over their history together. It might have gone differently in the immediate wake of Thomas's death if Athos had chosen a different course of action, but not after the sentence of death and all that's happened since.
And if Athos had lost Anne in some other way; like through a riding accident or even a murder, I think he would have coped better (not well, but better). He probably still would have left his estate and become a Musketeer, but I doubt he'd be drinking himself into a stupor every night, because he would still have untainted memories of frolicking through the meadows with his wife.
Likewise, if Anne had simply been exiled or jailed after Thomas's death, I don't think she would be the woman she is now. She would have returned to her criminal ways, but not with the same relish or defiance that she now possesses. That Athos was fully prepared to have her executed is the root of her anger and hate.
And having seen these flashbacks, it hit me that Athos isn't drinking because of depression, but because of guilt. In hindsight, he doesn't think he should have hanged Anne, and the more Catherine insists she deserved it, the less he feels it. At the time he probably told himself he was doing what was right by following the letter of the law – but he obviously never felt that to be true.
And now Anne has been pushed further into the darkness she needs to survive, and there's no way he can take back his decision.
Oh God, it's all so painful. I love what this show has done with Athos/Milady, and I'll risk the ire of book fans by saying it's much preferable to what Alexandre Dumas depicted, which didn't have anywhere near this much complexity in motivation and consequence.
***
Catherine was another great addition to both this episode and Athos's backstory, as his would-be fiancé who was passed over in favour of Anne and duly handed over to Thomas – only to lose him to the same woman (albeit in a different way) and slip into poverty. In fact, she was possibly the most interesting part of the story, all the more so since how the show dealt with her legitimately surprised me.
It was all gearing up for Athos to hand over the deeds of the estate to her; to elevate her back to her rightful position and allow her to live out her life with some degree of dignity and status... only that didn't happen.
I also think any other show would have included a bittersweet "what if" vibe to their interactions, to depict Athos as ruefully admitting that he should have chosen Catherine over his passion for Anne and so chosen a much happier path for himself. But that didn't happen either. Despite all that's occurred, Athos doesn't regret Anne, and he eventually opts to turn his land over to the people.
Naturally Catherine isn't happy about any of this, but in a short amount of time the show crafts a surprisingly complex character. I like that she's a competent and no-nonsense woman, but that she still carries around a hefty amount of pride. There's an equal blend of weakness and strength in her; she's unpleasantly but unsurprisingly been stewing in bitterness all these years, resentful at Athos for abandoning her twice over – once when he married someone else, and again when he left the estate. And seriously, the fact that he just up and left her without any assistance whatsoever is a pretty awful thing to do.
It's only natural that she would perceive Anne as the interloper who destroyed her entire life – stealing one brother and killing the other, and that news of her still alive and living as the king's mistress would send her over the edge. So do we now have a Chekhov's Gunman waiting in the wings to take out Milady? After all, Catherine knows where to find her.
I also liked that they gave her the task of shooting Edmund (as opposed to Athos), and of giving the scene some ambiguity as to who she was really firing at. On the one hand, she's been established as an accurate marksman, on the other, the two men were tussling on the ground in a pretty chaotic scramble when she took the shot. Perhaps she just fired at the two men and hoped for the best.
But with Edmund dead, it poses the question of whether her aim really was THAT good, makes her a potential fugitive/murderer, and ties up the loose end of Baron Renard (he can't hold Athos responsible for his son's death, and will likely be too shattered to cause any more trouble). I look forward to seeing her again...
***
And on a final note – Baron Renard and his son Edmund made for awful villains. Look, I can understand the need to simply have an antagonist, but I think they went a little too far in characterizing them as over-the-top dirtbags.
They whip people, they rape girls, they renege on deals, they call the villagers "vermin", they sniff about "responsibility to the social order", they plan to burn a village to the ground even though they ostensibly want it for the money it and its people can provide – too much, writers. Too much. And I really could have lived out my entire life without seeing that gross sequence of Edmund being cheered on by his peers as he climbs the stairs in slow-motion to rape Jeanne. 
I mean, there's evil villains, then there's comically evil villains, and then there's these guys. I suppose they were given a little nuance at the end there, with Edmund's little "I don't want to die" and his father's legit tears at his son's death – but at this point I had about as many shits to give as Athos:
None whatsoever.
Miscellaneous Observations:
Wow, Treville.  It would seem V-necked white shirts aren't just for the younger cast.
Athos doesn't read his letters? Why on earth not? I get they needed justification for the villagers to kidnap Athos while simultaneously not making Athos look like a total jerk for ignoring their plight, but what a strange character trait they added to go about doing it.
"Something Worth Fighting For" was the name of the final episode of Robin Hood, which meant the phrase gave me a few bad flashbacks when Treville starting going on about it – yet oddly enough, Robin Hood is one of the few adventure shows that didn't have a Magnificent Seven Samurai episode.
Porthos is getting increasingly impatient with his looming subplot, and now Treville can't hold the "I am your commanding officer" excuse over his head. Still, I hope they don't drag it out for too much longer.
Nice continuity on Athos's burned-down house. I thought they'd forgotten that.
I haven't looked too closely, but I was under the impression that Aramis/Porthos was the big slash ship in this fandom – if so, then Athos and D'artagnan seemed determined to give them a run for their money.


A nice little moment was Treville having to restrain the villagers when it came to the first shots fired at the barricades. It makes sense that the soldiers would have the training to wait under pressure, whilst the antsy villagers would want to shoot as soon and as often as possible.
This woman kicked ass:

I couldn't help but wonder what we were meant to take from the scene in which Athos and Catherine are alone together in the village; the one in which she tries on her mother's necklace. It was a little strange to see her flit so quickly from anger (at Athos's preference for Milady) to gratitude (at her assumption he's going to hand over the estate to her), though I could see the need of the writers to make both points: to demonstrate the nature of Athos's feelings toward her and set up the misunderstanding that Catherine would inherit the land. Trouble was, the two didn't follow each other very smoothly.
And then Jeanne comes in and calls out Catherine on her "preening" while others are fighting and dying downstairs. What were we meant to make of this? Because I kind of sided with Catherine on this point: she was taking a quiet moment to remember her mother and look forward to being restored to her former position, and Jeanne was a bit out of line in her accusation considering Catherine was putting herself in danger to fight Baron Renard just as surely as the others were.
But it underlined the fact that Catherine doesn't really belong in either world: she lives like a peasant, but neither she nor they consider her one of them, and I get the sense the scene was meant to set Catherine up for her comeuppance given the way she threatens Jeanne. Personally I ended up feeling more sorry for her than anything else, so I'll have to go in search of the general consensus on her character.
If anything, this episode was all about social status and the effect it has on people. Athos isn't interested in it, Catherine hangs her entire self-worth on it, Baron Renard is outraged when people step outside it, and Milady runs up and down it like a cat on a ladder. Yet all of them are negatively affected by it, and all of them loose something to it.
Despite the clichéd storyline, this had some juicy character insight – even for Milady, who only appeared in the flashbacks. It was a nice change of pace to get out of Paris and the palace for a while, for though I missed Constance and Queen Anne, it was great to get a break from King Louis and Rochefort.
We're officially at the midway point of the season, and I'm pretty happy about what we've gotten so far - and where things are headed.

8 comments:

  1. I've just discovered your blog (thanks 'the musketeers' tag) and i loved your review. :D Thanks for all the tv tropes links. I agree with many of the points you made. I spend a lovely time reading your review and laughing on some of your points. :P

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    1. Thanks for the lovely comment! Just try not to lose too much time browsing through tv tropes...

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  2. An interesting episode (yes, using a much used trope, parts of it even reminded my of Doctor Who A town called Mercy episode)
    I wonder what to make of Catherine, has she become embittered by being left behind, or was she always that way, getting handed around from brother to brother. She was awfully quick to leap on Milady's guilt over killing Thomas, I was wondering if she had set something up to try and win Athos back. Personally I didn't think Athos felt he had any regrets - but by god he should have arranged things when he left AND read his letters!!

    Glad to hear they are getting a third series. Also glad to see that they are going to make a second series of The Tunnel - I do hope we get to see Angel Coulby on our screens again.

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    1. I found Catherine really interesting - not a very pleasant woman, though I can certainly understand how she would end up that way. I'm sure she'll be popping up again, and I wonder if perhaps she knows more than she's letting on about Thomas's death...

      For a show that revolves around four men, I'm consistently impressed by how well they do the female characters.

      Also glad to see that they are going to make a second series of The Tunnel - I do hope we get to see Angel Coulby on our screens again.

      I didn't know that! Man, I hope so. Unlike the Scandinavian/American versions (or so I've been told), Karl and Laura are still together by the end of the season, so I unless something drastic happens off-screen, I don't see any reason why she shouldn't be in it.

      Fingers crossed, as I've missed her lately!

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    2. Catherine is certainly an interesting character, and I agree, for a story about the guys, they do a good job with the female characters - see it CAN be done!

      I haven't seen the US version of the Tunnel, but I have seen the Swedish one, and in the second series, even though separated (on friendly terms), the wife is there and plays more of a part than she did in the first series, However, Angel had a bigger role than in the original, so it stands to reason she will be there

      I have missed her too

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    3. I have seen the Swedish one, and in the second series, even though separated (on friendly terms), the wife is there and plays more of a part than she did in the first series, However, Angel had a bigger role than in the original, so it stands to reason she will be there.

      Ah, that's great news! I hope it happens.

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  3. As a book fan, I agree that the relationship with Milady and Athos is handled much more interestingly and with much more nuance! I much prefer this type of adaptation. Modern adaptations that make Milady literally-the-devil-kind-of-evil (like in the book) are just unaware of or unwilling to work for what modern audiences need in characterization. It's interesting to me that Milady (book version) had a huge narrative point where she "cried rape" falsely. I would much prefer it not to be false in this adaptation (I'm realizing more and more how much the "woman crying rape falsely" is and has always been a male narrative???), but either way they go with it, the parallel is interesting!

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    1. I'm convinced that a decent take on The Musketeers will rise or fall on their portrayal of Milady - and that's why I think this show is one of the best takes on the source material (and possibly why it faltered a little in season three with Maime McCoy's absence!)

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